When ‘Being Present’ Doesn’t Stop Overeating

From an email this week:

“…I tend to worry a lot and therefore I feel anxious most of the time and I think I use food to make me feel better as when my tummy is really full my anxiety does reduce a bit. I have tried savouring my favourite foods and being ‘Present’ when I’m eating, however, I can only maintain this for so long before my bad habits return and I just seem to go round and round with this issue. Do you have any further suggestions?”

My response:

First, I want to acknowledge you for responding. To write back and discuss something as private and personal as eating is a bold move.

I can definitely relate to not being able to maintain staying “present” for long and slipping back into my habits of binge eating or overeating.

You said, “…I think I use food to make me feel better as when my tummy is really full my anxiety does reduce a bit….”

That’s a leap to be able to identify when you’re eating because you’re hungry and when you’re eating for another reason. I think the key was when I started realizing I wasn’t “bad” if I was eating to feel comforted. The power was in recognizing that I was doing it for that reason in the first place. When I can do that, I can choose to continue eating…but with awareness. And REALLY going all out to let it comfort me.

Make a ceremony out of it.
Pick your #1 MOST favorite/desire food in the moment. Light candles, put fresh flowers on the table where you’re eating, or get in a warm bath to eat, or put on favorite music and wear your favorite robe and slippers, or go to a favorite place with a favorite person to eat, or prepare your most favorite dish with all the trimmings…and make yourself a total queen around eating the food. Milk it for all it’s worth. And stop when you feel you’ve had enough.

If I stay focused, I will notice a subtle feeling when I reach “enough”.

At that point, I have to use all of my mental muscles to assure myself I have enough and to put the rest away.

This means using the rational, “higher” part of my brain (the neo-cortex) to assure the primal, “animal” part of my brain that I would be fine if I put the food away.

My primal urges always want me to hoard the good stuff, because I might not get any again. If I was living in a cave hunting my food each day, this is completely relevant and helpful. But, though our modern society has evolved very rapidly in the last 2000 years, our primal brains have not kept up.

The first time I was able to stay conscious and put the remaining food away when I had “enough”, I was shocked. I didn’t think I could, but I did. I felt powerful! I don’t always succeed, but like anything, this takes practice.

When you complete this ceremony of pleasure and comfort, it does 2 things:

1 – Counters your inner thoughts that are trying to beat you up and confuses them because you’re treating yourself like royalty
2 – Changes your emotional state because you feel a bit silly yet you’re still getting all your favorite things
3 – Develops a new habit of nourishing yourself while being able to stay present, notice the point of “enough” and stop

I felt like I practically made love to Rice Krispy treats when I did this. And then I felt like a powerful gladiator warrior when I stopped at one!

If you find that “staying present” and conscious eating tactics work or don’t work for you to avoid binging or overeating, understand that you’re dealing with a brain that has developed a habitual behavior. It might be a behavior that’s become ingrained over years…maybe even decades. This is not going to be easy to break.

It’s going to require serious effort and questioning yourself when you have thoughts to keep eating or to check out. It’s like throwing yourself in the middle of shark-infested waters and giving everything you have to swim through it.

But it is possible, and probable if you stay committed to getting through it and forming a new habit. Our brains are super efficient, so each time you do it, it gets easier.


If you want to learn how to break through your habit of overeating or binge eating, my Binge Eating Breakthrough ebook is for you. You'll learn powerful tools and distinctions to be able to understand and overcome your urges to eat more than you want. You'll also learn step-by-step strategies for managing your cravings and feeling control with food.



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